In a stunning shift, Ontario legislators removed a key consumer protection measure from its updates to ticketing laws in the Canadian province. According to The Globe and Mail, Liberal leadership in the province plans to introduce an amendment to remove a transparency provision that would remove requirements for ticket sellers to disclose the total number of tickets available to the public for a given event at least seven days before they went on sale.
This transparency measure, touted as a key consumer benefit of the updates to Ontario law, was at the center of the province’s updates throughout the process, but fell victim to a powerful lobby of industry insiders, it appears.
“The Ministry of the Attorney General confirmed the forthcoming change, saying that after further consultations, particularly with touring musicians, the government realized the rule would be a disincentive for musicians, particularly small and medium acts, to tour the province.”
Still in place, presumably, are a cap on resale markups relative to face value, a requirement to display the original ticket price when tickets are resold, and a ban on the use of “bot” software to circumvent purchase limits.
The abdication of the consumer protection measure follows a concerted effort by the promoter and primary side of the industry, led by Music Canada Live and Ticketmaster Canada, according to The Globe and Mail.
The ability of artists and promoters to hold back as many tickets as they like from public sale in order to dole to friends, family, fan clubs, local officials, or whomever (or, in some cases, to resell themselves), is a key to the current operational model for touring acts. The murky nature of how many tickets are ever available to the public also makes the secondary resale market an easy scapegoat when fans fail to acquire tickets on regular sale, only to see immediate resale options at substantially higher prices on the secondary market.
Such is the situation that led to the Ontario government picking up the issue of ticketing in the first place. Widespread consumer complaints over the near-immediate sellouts of The Tragically Hip’s 2016 final tour with recently deceased frontman Gord Downie, which saw enormous demand against available supply (and therefore sky-high resale prices), got the wheels turning in Ottawa. For that tour, a total supply of approximately 200,000 tickets was met with a demand in the range of 4 million fans looking to secure one, according to The Globe and Mail.
Given the fact that anti-bot laws are notoriously difficult to enforce, and caps on resale price generally fail (related: “Ontario’s Attempted Price Control for Tickets Will Fail”) an improvement in ticketing transparency was the only aspect of ticketing reform in Ontario that would actually have a meaningful benefit to consumers, showing where promoter, artist and venue holdbacks make the actual number of tickets available for a given show far less than the venue’s capacity. An investigation into ticketing in New York by Attorney General Eric Schnedierman found that as much as 90 percent of tickets for some shows were held back, leading to near-immediate sellouts and consumer anger, both at the primary seller and secondary resellers.
Skepticism from the ticket-sales side of the industry largely springs from the fact that ticket availability can be fluid. On top of promotional and pre-sale tickets, artists sometimes request sizable blocks of tickets available for their use, including for friends, and can change the requested number over time. Not all consumers are aware of the forces at play, leaving the industry’s front line – ticket sellers and promoters – in the crosshairs for something they cannot completely control.
There have been other suggestions put forward by provincial MPs which are apparently still under consideration. One would force sellers to make at least 75% of the tickets for every event available to the general public. But that is expected to meet strong resistance from the industry as well.